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E’s True Plymouth Story: No turkey at dinner!

November 22, 2006

Scandal! The Chicago Tribune features a revealing expose today on the first Thanksgiving the Pilgrims celebrated back in 1621.

Or did they?

From the Tribune:

There is no historical link between the harvest meal in 1621 and America’s Thanksgiving narrative. It is, quite simply, a “myth,” albeit a cherished one, according to no less authority than the historians at Plymouth’s Plimouth Plantation, a non-profit educational institution and living museum that researches and replicates life in the early years of the colony. Although there are deep historical dimensions to the myth, some of the shallower aspects concerning cuisine may be among the more shocking to Americans.

Brace yourself. For starters, there is no evidence that turkey was on a menu that more likely starred venison, ducks, geese and shellfish. There might have been stewed pumpkin, but certainly no pumpkin pie in the then almost certainly ovenless Plymouth Colony. Cranberry sauce was as unknown to the colonists and the Indians, and neither yams nor white potatoes were grown yet in the New World. There is nothing to suggest the Native Americans popped corn and bestowed it on their colonizers. And there likely was no groaning board around which diners gathered.

“Did they even have a table? Maybe,” said Elizabeth Pleck, a historian at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, who has written extensively on the history of Thanksgiving.

Well, there goes my pilgrim and turkey decorative centerpiece!

(I strive for a historically accurate dinner table. Please ignore the cranberries in the shape of a steel can.)

[UPDATE: Even a professor from nearby Millersville University, Francis Bremer, gets in on the Pilgrim bashing in the Tribune’s article.

There are more, many stemming from the fact that the Victorians who promulgated the Pilgrim connection tended to imagine them as Victorians. Thus the concept that Pilgrims dressed austerely in black and white, when in fact they often wore earth tones, scarlet and yellow, according to Francis Bremer, chairman of the history department at Pennsylvania’s Millersville University.

And Bremer dismisses the idea that Pilgrims were priggish about alcohol and sex.

“Their tradition coming from England was to drink beers, ales, stouts and other home-brewed beverages,” he said. “They would have continued that.” As for sex, between a married couple it was encouraged and not just for procreation, Bremer said.

He added, “It doesn’t really matter if they were eating turkey, what really mattered is they came together as a community and welcomed people from another society. … And that element … of welcoming the Native Americans, who had a very different culture, is something I think we ought to spend more time thinking about.” ]

Talking turkey about the REAL 1st Thanksgiving | Chicago Tribune


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